Maria Stuart

By Friedrich von Schiller, Eric Bentley

5,734 ratings - 3.5* vote

Für dieses Werk der Weimarer Klassik muss man Schillers ästhetische Schriften für die Interpretation heranziehen, besonders Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen. Ausgangspunkt seiner Gedanken ist die Enttäuschung über den Umschlag der Französischen Revolution in die Schreckensherrschaft. Damit stellte sich für Schiller die Frage, was der Anlass für diesen Umschlag w Für dieses Werk der Weimarer Klassik muss man Schillers ästhetische Schriften für die Interpretation

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Book details

Kindle Edition, 0 pages

(first published 1800)

Original Title
Maria Stuart
3150000645 (ISBN13: 9783150000649)

Community Reviews


The last days before Mary Stuart‘s execution

In 1568 Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, had to flee and lost her crown, after she was accused of being involved in the murder of her husband. She seeked help and protection in England from her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. But as both women claim to be entitled to the English throne, Elizabeth fears for her crown and has Mary imprisoned in Fotheringhay Castle. Schiller‘s play begins 19 years later, three days before Mary was executed.

Mary Stuart - Queen of Scotland

Catholic Mary, 1542 - 1587, Queen of Scotland since she was six years old.

Enchanted by Mary Stuarts beauty, young men attempted again and again to free Mary from her prison of Fotheringhay Castle. Likewise the young Mortimer only pretends to accept Elizabeth‘s order to assassinate Mary, to be able to get to her chamber and plan her escape. Following Mary‘s order, Mortimer tells Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, about their plans. Robert Dudley is currently the lover of Elizabeth but was Mary‘s lover before, which is why she counts on him still loving and protecting her. To solve his personal dilemma, Dudley arranges a meeting between the two queens and hopes that during this meeting, Elizabeth will decide to show mercy. But as the queens meet for the first time, the plan completely backfires. Elizabeth accuses Mary of hypocrisy and of killing all of her husbands, while Mary counters that Elizabeth is a hypocrite as well and that despite pretending to be virtuous and calling herself the Virgin Queen, she can‘t hide the fact her mother was Anne Boleyn, a woman widely seen as a witch and whore. Elizabeth storms off and the women are more at enmity than ever. An attempt to assassinate Elizabeth fails, and Mortimer commits suicide as he realises that Leicester never truly planned to help him. Elizabeth is torn between her desire to have Mary out of the way, and her wish to keep her hands clean, which is why she signs Mary‘s death sentence but places the responsibility on others. After Mary‘s execution is inevitable, she finally accepts her destiny as just punishment for partaking in the murder of her husband, to face death with a pure soul.

Elisabeth I. - Queen of England

Protestant Elizabeth I.- The "Virgin Queen" Her optics obviously inspired the red queen in the "Alice in Wonderland" movie.

Elizabeth I finds herself in a difficult situation. As a queen she has no heir, which is why she pretends to be virtuous and calls herself „the Virgin Queen“. Her mother was Anne Boleyn, former queen of England, who gained popularity by sleeping her way on the throne, but betraying the king by not giving birth to a male hair and causing an outfall with the catholic church. She was beheaded for committing (incestuous) adultery, which is why Elizabeth‘s desire to appear particularly pure and virtuous is understandable. She wants to keep her hands clean from all sins but also fights as a protestant against the strong resistance of the catholic church, which is represented by Mary. As a woman, her social worth is determined by beauty and virtue. But while Mary was particularly beautiful, Elizabeth wasn‘t just tall, pale and red haired, but survived the smallpocks, leaving her half bald and dependent on wigs and cosmetics because of heavy scaring. She wore the most expensive and striking dresses, while applying the heaviest make-up, so that her dressing ceremony took four hours every day. Because she had a strong desire to eliminate all female competition, her maids and servants were only allowed to wear black and white. A desire that also shows in the execution of Mary and the competition around Robert Dudley. It strongly shows, that as a woman she was supposed to follow social codes and standards that she, as a queen, could never follow if she wanted to maintain her power. As woman she could never be a true monarch and as a queen she could never be a true woman.

Blood between Queens

After eighteen and a half years in custody, Mary was found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth in 1586, and was beheaded the following year at Fotheringhay Castle.

Mary Stuart was in fact beheaded in 1587 for plotting against Elizabeth and their dispute was global politics at that time. The core events, the names of the characters, the setting as well as the religious and social issues of the time are accurate, portraying what Schiller and his contemporaries understood to be typical of the English Renaissance. Elizabeth is the typical representative of the authentic individual. As a woman and queen she can‘t find totality but is forced to live a life in appearance. Thereby she has to renounce all personal happiness. Although she constantly talks about freedom she depends on public opinion and the expectations of female leadership. Mary finds autonomy and totality, only after looking into herself and loosing her fear of death. In public politics she remains to be dominated by the forces of autocracy. In her vision the freedom of the individual has to be brought in harmony with reasonable principles of the community. But whereas both queens seem to be portrayed as independent and strong women in a male-centred world, the meeting between them shows female prejudice to be true, as the main argument between them is that one of them is prettier than the other, and that in the end, the worth of a woman is determined by her beauty only and both queens fully submit to this structure.

“Monarchs are slaves to their rank - they are not allowed to follow their hearts”

Mary's life, marriages, reigns, alleged involvement in plots against Elizabeth, and subsequent execution made her become a polarizing and highly romanticised character in British and European history and art. "Mary Stuart" by Schiller is fictional, but based on real events, giving the play an educating, while entertaining touch. I usually don‘t particularly like to read plays, as they are intended to be seen on stage, but I read the biography of Mary Stuart simultaneously, which made me become totally interested in the topic. I have to admit that I knew nothing about Mary Stuart before and I would advice to read a bit about Mary and the conflict between her and Elizabeth beforehand, just to get the full picture and avoid confusion. After looking into Elizabeth I I get how she influenced an entire period and understand references to her I didn‘t get before.


Reading about Mary Stuart, the queen of Scots, without letting yourself immersed into the tragedy play by Friedrich Schiller, would render poor enough something of her doomed fate.
So, having myself lured into her troubled and turbulent past first by sir Anthony Burgess, with his “A Dead Man in Deptford“, and then tenderly embraced by monsieur Alexandre Dumas, pere, into his storytelling by “Mary Stuart, Celebrated crimes”, I have fallen (though better said, I have ascended) into the hands of the poetical verses of Friedrich Schiller (I have in mind of course the way words were displayed on the sheet), and let myself swim (I still keep myself afraid of water, but this time it seemed I was on a solid shore, prettily vouchsafed into a prison castle) on the tragic music (again, words-wise) recounting the tragic end of this remarkably beautiful queen, nonetheless a beauty that didn’t save her from her cursed destiny.
I am for sure not going to read another version on this topic, save for a Romanian version. Pardon. That is to say that this is not going to happen, surely, because it brings into my mind some anecdotes or jokes where there are involved different nationalities, and especially an English, a French, a German, and a Romanian ;)
I found the play really entertaining and smoothly flowing for my waking senses, good that the English translation was not very sophisticated, thus it allowed me to have a deep understanding of the wording. I guess the last castle where the queen of Scots was kept prisoner was the most ferocious, because I recall than in previous ones her stay was not so bitterly inflamed. But then again, after so many long, long years in captivity it didn’t change a bit of how one felt, totally deserted and left to wait for the final restful peaceful end… But I agreed with sir Amias Paulet, keeper of Mary, that ‘in idle hours the […] mind is busy’ (he said ‘evil mind’, I say it’s just a troubled mind)
After reading the previous works where this character of Mary Stuart queen is thoroughly presented or talked about, I feel that this tragedy play gives me a balance that I sensed it was missing or failing in the others, because here I can hear and read about Elizabeth I of England thoughts, cries, tormented impressions, reflections on what to do, on whom to rely, and why to really go for a final verdict.
Against all odds, this play makes somehow an equilibrium between those two conflicting queens, each on her side thinking for yourself that she was right to think and act as has been done, in terms of understanding and accepting the consequences, but then again the past cannot be erased or redone. In this sense the differences between those queens were so insurmountable and no narrow channel allowed any gap closing to be reached in a fair, just manner. It is a play that I could play in my mind’s eyes with the same aplomb as if I would have watched it on stage. I was struck with a crafty work, and I have appreciated that the history is not fully applied in the ‘stick to the point’ manner. I have in mind of course the irregularity allowed in this proceeding by creating the meeting scene between the two queens, who actually had never seen each other, but FS allowed himself to let mix two inconsistent things. As inclination changes, thus ever ebbs and flows of the unstable tide of any reader, this is a story that deserves the worthy attention, if not for the historical facts, at least for the game that the conscience plays on human minds.


Maria, the Queen of Scotland, flees to England after being accused in her own country of aiding and abetting the murder of her husband. Elisabeth, the Queen of England, had Mary imprisoned because she feared for her throne. The play begins a few years later. Young men try to free Maria, but they do not succeed. There is also hope for a reconciliation between the two. Elizabeth wants to do everything to murder Mary in order to save herself, but this backfires. The book was not boring, but it did not grab me, which I found a pity, because I was looking forward to this story. The end is very predictable.


So yes, with Friedrich von Schiller's 1800 grand historical drama Maria Stuart, readers (or indeed watchers since Maria Stuart is, of course, a play) kind of already know full well and also right from the beginning of the presented action that Mary Queen of Scots is most definitely going to be executed, that she is to be decapitated for high treason (and both from the factual and historic truth of the matter that Mary Queen of Scots was indeed executed by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England but in fact also from the play itself, since in the very first act of Maria Stuart we are already being categorically informed that Mary Stuart has received a death sentence and therefore, throughout Maria Stuart, the only real and naggingly frustrating question is simply and basically exactly when Elizabeth I will have her royal executioners carry out the death sentence of having her cousin's head chopped off).

And while there of course and expectantly is in Maria Stuart the necessary (and always required in classic drama) personal conflicts between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, in many ways and albeit that as queen of England, Elizabeth I is the one who wields the most political power and can therefore also rather single-handedly decide on her rebellious cousin's fate, well, despite all of that earned and presented might, Elizabeth I is in Maria Suart far more often being shown by Friedrich Schiller to be reactionary, unreasonable, sometimes even ragingly angry, like a young child with a temper tantrum (and indeed often also rather majorly unsure of herself to boot).

Generally rather majorly ahistoric, which I do know and more than well realise, but I also have to admit that especially when I read Maria Stuart for my first university German literature course (on Goethe and Schiller) in 1987 (and when I was also barely twenty years of age), I certainly and definitely massively enjoyed seeing in Maria Stuart Queen Elizabeth I being cast by Friedrich Schiller as mostly the main villain and Mary Stuart, and Mary Queen of Scots as the accepting of her fate tragic victim of both fate and of her birth, of her Catholic religion and dogma (although that yes, the more I have over the years reread Maria Stuart, the more I do tend to now find Mary Queen of Scots' often quite in one's proverbial face depicted passion and her staunchly Catholic at all costs faith rather draggingly tedious, even as I do still tend to find Friedrich Schiller's characterisation of Elizabeth I as really massively cold and as weirdly over-calculating, that for her, that for Elizabeth I, retaining her power, retaining ALL of her might and glory is obviously more important and more personally essential and necessary than acting humane and caring, that yes indeed, in Maria Stuart Elizabeth I rather much too willingly abandons and rejects her nobility of spirit for political expediency and for retaining her inherited crown undefeated).


Schiller version of the story of Mary, Queen of Scots. Beautiful and heartbreaking. I don't know whether it was the original prose or the translation, but the translation was like Shakespearean language - very beautiful.


“Mary Stuart” is a play that gives us a fictional account of the last days of Mary Queen of Scots. In it we are treated to an entirely made up scene in which Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I meet face to face. And it is the stuff of great drama!
In Schiller’s hands the play and story leans heavily in the favor of Mary Stuart, and Elizabeth I comes across as the villain, if there is one. Elizabeth’s machinations and manipulations of others without her being honest in her intentions makes her a sharp contrast to Schiller’s Mary, who ends the play being brutally self-honest and content with her fate. Elizabeth on the other hand ends the play literally (and figuratively) alone.
One of the strengths of this play is that there are at least 6 characters that get good moments to shine in the text, and would be a treat for any actor to play. “Mary Stuart” really is an ensemble piece. Personally my favorite role was the role of Mortimer, a converted fanatic who is full of passion and religious fervor. His loyalty to Mary serves as a great contrast to another character who ultimately betrays her.
Act 3 in the play, where the two monarchs meet, is simply excellent and Schiller’s Mary scales the oratorical heights in her one moment of “triumph” against the Queen of England. It is nail-biting theater. Act 4:2 is also well done and builds and builds until Elizabeth finally signs the death warrant for Mary. The dialogue is thrilling and edge of your seat as Elizabeth’s council argues and weighs this momentous decision.
A good production of this play (and I have seen one at the Stratford Festival in Canada) is harrowing to watch and will keep you entertained as it gives a great glimpse into power, and just how much (or little) power those who assume it really have.
The new version by Peter Oswald is simply stunning. The translation is modern and accessible for any reader / audience. It is well done, and I prefer it to other translations I have looked into.


Well, better than reading it. Acting is great. But the play is so not a favorite of mine. It feels like Elizabeth is being punished because she isn't beautiful enough.

Czarny Pies

Friedrich Schiller is considered to be the greatest playwright of the German romantic movement that provided the foundation for the French, Italian and English romantic movements in the first half of the 19th Century. Schiller's formula is diabolically simple. You take a movement for national independence or unity, put a human tragedy in the centre and then tell your story with sublime verse.

As one of the foremost oracles of the Zeitgeist of his era, it is not surprising that several operas where written on Schiller's plays. In the case of this work, the honour goes to Giacomo Donizetti who wrote Maria Stuarda which was first performed in 1934. Maria Stuarda is still regularly performed.

Schiller's play also survives. The major last revival was mounted by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada and was so well received that its run was extended.

Dominic Thomsen

Great one. Even if hard to read, this drama is stunning. When our teacher told us we were going to read it in school I was going like " oh my god, another meaningless and stupid waste of time", but after having got into it, the story became really fascinating. Actually this fantastic piece of, yes, art was what made me interested in the Tudors and other powerful dynasties. Basically without having read Maria Stuart, I would never have got to read anything historical or fictional that other people just think is boring and has no significance nowadays. Summing up: Just a great piece of work and definitely worth to take the time reading.